Mr Denhem began unpacking the bags that he had brought with him. He had brought very little with him, only what he could take on his horse. There would be a need to purchase items when he went to Meryton. The cottage was comfortable, more than he had expected. When he had planned his future, leaving his father’s home, Denhem was uncertain as to his living situation. Mrs Dillard had given him a precious gift by telling him of the steward position at Longbourn. He would need to thank her properly when he was in Meryton.
After a brief rest, Denhem left the cottage to return to the inn, to retrieve his belongings. He was pleased to thank Mrs Dillard, promising to do his best for the Bennet family. As Mrs Dillard and Mrs Hill were sisters, the innkeeper was very fond of the family, so she was pleased to know he would take care of them.
Arriving back at the cottage, Denhem opened the first satchel. He had brought very few clothing items, as he did not wish to dress in clothing that was far above the station in which he now would live. He had brought funds with him, so he would be able to purchase more practical clothes for a steward of small estate. Near the bottom of the satchel was a miniature likeness of his mother. Lady Anne was cherished by all who knew her, especially her first born. Mother, how am I to clear my name of such a foul accusation? How can I make Father believe the truth? Wickham has filled his head with so many lies. I know Father has been distraught, ever since you died. But to think he could believe me capable of behaving so abominably, deeply wounds me. Only Richard can help me now. I pray he is in England, not on the continent. I will write to him tomorrow, after I make purchases in Meryton, as I will require writing supplies.
Denhem pulled the drawer of the bedside table open, placing the portrait inside. He took a sigh, before closing the drawer, then reclined on the bed, fully clothed. The need for sleep overtook him and he swiftly drifted into slumber.
~~ ** ~~
A letter arrived for Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam in London. His father knew Richard had recently returned to England, after being wounded in battle fighting Napoleon”s army. During his recovery, Richard was residing at the Fitzwilliam family townhouse in the Mayfair district. As the colonel came down the stairs, in preparation to break his fast, the butler stepped forward. “Colonel, a letter from your father. The rider is still here, as I thought you might wish to send a response. I have cook seeing to the lad’s needs.”
Obviously, the butler knew the family well enough to suspect a problem, as his father had likely insisted on the rider express delivering the message. Richard took the missive and broke his father’s seal.
I am at Pemberley. There has been a horrifying event, and I feel it imperative to inform you of the situation. A maid has been murdered at Pemberley, and the evidence points to your cousin being the murderer. I am certain that you feel as I do, that William is innocent of the allegations, but I cannot convince Gerald to believe me.
Wickham is behind the accusation, stating he entered the guest room and witnessed William strike the murderous blow to the maid, using the stone carving that his mother had given him so many years ago. According to Wickham, the maid was with child, and he believes the maid was certain she could make your cousin marry her. This was, according to Wickham, is the reason William killed her, to rid himself of an unwanted bastard.
It is clear that Wickham has been preparing for this day, as he has convinced Gerald that William is a reprobate and a scoundrel. The vile man has placed his own actions on the shoulder of poor William. I cannot understand why Gerald would believe such nonsense about his own son. Did you not tell me of one of your officer friends having become an investigator? Do you know if he would be willing to come to Pemberley to investigate the situation? The magistrate, Sir Jacoby, has issued a warrant for William’s arrest. We must act swiftly, to protect our poor boy from ending up dancing at the end of a rope.
Send word as soon as possible. We need all the assistance possible to save William.
Your father, Lord Matlock
“Good God, how can this be?” Richard cried out.
“Colonel, is there something I can do to be of assistance?” the butler asked, concern heavy in his tone.
“I need someone to take a message to the military encampment as soon as I write it. I will be but a moment, please have someone ready.” Richard replied as he was already racing up the stairs towards his apartment. Throwing open the door, Richard’s shocked his batman, who had just replaced the ewer of water on the wash stand. “Roberts, we may need to leave London soon, depending on what I learn in the next hour. Be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.”
“Of course, Colonel. I will have a trunk packed and ready. Do you know to where we might be traveling?”
“North, that is all I know for certain. Perhaps to Pemberley.”
Having been the colonel’s batman for many years, he was well familiar with the Darcy estate. And he was familiar with the colonel’s moods. It was clear to Roberts that something was amiss. “All will be at the ready, Colonel.”
Richard wrote a brief message, then returned downstairs, handing the missive to the butler. “I will be in my father’s study. There will be a man coming to speak with me, send him to the study.”
Within an hour, Richard was joined by the former Lieutenant Samuel Andrews. “Andrews, I am grateful for your coming so quickly. And I am grateful that you have returned to England. You have been in the Orient for quite a long time.”
“It was a journey I am pleased is over. Never was one to tolerate ships. All the rocking and movement, my poor body suffered tremendously.”
“Was it worth the trip? Were you able to manage everything while you were there?”
Mr Andrews nodded his head. “My father’s death left much to be dealt with. My stepmother and my siblings needed to be relocated to England, Father’s business and house sold. Took near a year there to complete everything, but I learned much from the people in the district where they lived. Even some tricks that I can use in my new profession.”
Richard had handed the man a cup of coffee, as he remembered his friend had preferred the beverage over tea. “It is your new profession I wish to discuss with you. I have need of your services. Would you be willing to travel to Derbyshire? My father sent word of a matter of utmost urgency which your skills would come in handy. There has been a murder at my uncle’s home, and my cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy, has been accused of the crime. The man who claims to have witnessed the act is a known scoundrel and reprobate, and he cannot be trusted. My father and I are of the same opinion, that the witness is lying.”
“Are you certain you are not wishing for him to be lying? Sometimes we have difficulty accepting the truth of those for whom we care.”
“The man in question has spread lies about my cousin for many years. Unfortunately, my uncle has come to believe lies he has been given, rather than believe his own son. My cousin is a good man, I believe he is innocent for many reasons, but the main reason is this: the murdered girl was a maid at my uncle’s estate. She was allegedly with child, which was said as a motive for the murder. My cousin is a rare and decent man, and he has never been with a lady. He made the decision to keep himself pure, for his wedding. One of his father’s cousins died from the French disease, and my cousin remembers seeing the man as he was dying. As you can imagine, it was not a pleasant sight. Even with my brother and I teasing him, William remained true to his decision. I cannot believe my cousin has been with any woman, let alone a young maid in his father’s home.”
“Such a rare man indeed. Especially for someone of your station. You have so many…opportunities to indulge in pleasures.” Andrews sipped the coffee from his cup. “By the way, this is exceptional coffee. I would like the name of your warehouse, so I can procure some for my home.”
“My father took many years to find this blend, and he is quite fond of it. If you take the job, you can ask him when you are at Pemberley.”
“For you, Colonel, I will take the job. I had not planned on doing any traveling for the foreseeable future, as I wish to aid my family in settling in their new home. You have saved my life numerous times, and I can never repay you for such. I can leave later today. Do you have recommendations as to where I can hire reliable horses along the way?”
“I made a list for you. Here is a letter for you to show them, so my family can pick up the charges.” Richard handed several sheets of parchment to the investigator. “And I can give an advance on your pay.” He placed a small pouch on the desk next to the papers.
“Sir, I have always found you to be true to your word. I shall give the investigation my complete devotion.”
“I would expect nothing less, Andrews.”
~~ ** ~~
That afternoon, Richard needed to visit White’s mens club, as he had been given the task of relaying a message to one of his father’s friends. After relaying the message, Richard was preparing to leave, when he came upon an old friend.
“Bingley, what have you been doing with yourself? The last I heard from my cousin, you were to be in Scarborough with your relations.” Richard spoke as he shook hands with Charles Bingley. After Richard, Bingley was the closest friend Fritzwilliam Darcy had known.
“I felt the need to escape from my sisters and their constant nagging. Louisa and Hurst nag me about Caroline, while Caroline plots of ways she can snare your cousin into marriage. The reason I was able to come to town without them was by telling a small lie, as Caroline believes I will be taking her to Pemberley in June. She is so determined to remain in the north, on the off chance Darcy will visit Scarborough before we visit this summer. Fortunately, she has not discovered that I will not be in the north this summer.”
Richard frowned. “Just where will you be?”
“I have taken the lease on an estate in Hertfordshire. Near the market village of Meryton. The estate is named Netherfield Park. I sent a message to your cousin, as he promised to visit when I found an estate, to give me advice on how to run an estate.”
“What a wonderful plan. It is wise to take a lease rather than purchase an estate. With no experience at being the master of an estate, it is wise to taken your time and learn the good and the bad of the property, to make certain you have chosen the best place for your needs. At the moment, I believe William is busy with some important matters at Pemberley. I will send him word of our discussion, and perhaps he will be able to take a holiday and come visit you.”
“The invitation applies to you as well, Colonel. If you have leave, you should think of taking time to come visit. With my sister in the north, the estate will be a calm and relaxing time.” Bingley stated with a chuckle.
Richard chuckled as well. “That is a wonderful idea. If I can get leave, I will send word. Though I am recovering from injuries received in battle, I have been making myself useful doing paperwork. Perhaps I will be able to take a holiday this summer.”
The friends bid farewell and went along his way. Richard was pleased to see that word of the murder had not reached London, though he was certain that it would not take long for it to be on the lips of everyone in the top rung of society. Once the rumors started, it would be difficult to stop the gossips from devouring his cousin’s reputation.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
The day following the departure of Andrews for the north, Richard was shocked to receive a letter in a familiar script. He made his way to his bed chamber, closing the door, so he would have complete privacy. Breaking the plain seal, Richard began to read.
I pray you are in England, as I am dearly in need of your assistance. Wickham has set the stage for me to be blamed for the murder of a maid at Pemberley. On my mother’s grave, I swear to you, I did not commit the crime. You know me, Richard. I would never have ruined a female, especially a servant in Father’s house.
Knowing Father would believe Wickham over me, I left Pemberley. Many would find this a testament of my guilt. There was no alternative for me to be able to find a way to clear my name of these charges. How has it come to be that my father would believe that scoundrel over his own flesh and blood, I will never know. It saddens me to know father would trust his godson. For some reason, Wickham has the opinion that if I was dead, he would be Father’s heir. All the rumors when we were at university, the belief that Father had sent his bastard to be educated along with his heir, has Wickham believing he is a Darcy. As he is a year older than I, he believes he is the rightful heir of Pemberley.
Trusting that this will find you in Town, I will tell you where I am hiding. Currently, I have taken the position of steward of a small estate in Hertfordshire. The estate is Longbourn, which is located near the village of Meryton. I am using the name Fredrick Denhem. The estate is the property of Mr Thomas Bennet.
Please, Richard, I beg you to believe in my innocence. If you can find some way to assist me in clearing my name, I would be extremely grateful.
Your cousin, FD
Richard gave a sigh of relief. William was innocent and safe. His cousin had not committed the murder, yet how was he to find the evidence necessary to clear Fitzwilliam Darcy’s name? And how were they to prove the truth to Gerald Darcy? Richard knew that Wickham was not a Darcy. When he had heard the rumors at university, Richard had approached the subject with his father. Henry Fitzwilliam had been a close friend of Gerald when they were young men, and it was through their friendship that Gerald was first introduced to Lady Anne. Henry was convinced that he knew his friend was not the father of Wickham. The proof of that fact was simple. Gerald Darcy had been on his grand tour during the time when Wickham had been conceived. When Gerald had returned from the continent, he entered into an engagement with Lady Anne, and they were married two months later. Just before their first anniversary, Lady Anne had given birth to Fitzwilliam, The elder Wickham had been a devoted steward, taking care of Pemberley and the other Darcy properties with care and wisdom. Mr Wickham had been the steward for Gerald’s father, and, a month after Fitzwiliam’s birth, Gerald’s father died, leaving the new heir at a loss, the steward was essential in keeping the estate from collapsing. The devotion the man had for the estate and the Darcy family was the reason Gerald had accepted the honor of being godfather to George, and the reason he wished to give his friend’s son a proper education.
After thinking the matter over, Richard decided to keep what he knew from his father, at least for the time being. He wanted to give Andrews a chance to investigate, to find any evidence to prove William was innocent.
Suddenly, Richard realized how he could come to be near his cousin, without drawing unnecessary attention to his presence. Bingley. He could take Bingley’s offer to visit the estate he was leasing. Under the excuse of wishing to recuperate in the country, Richard would be able to move about casually in the neighborhood of the two estates. He prayed they would be close, so he could meet with William frequently. But first, he would need to speak with Bingley.
Knowing that Bingley was staying at a boarding house near White’s, Richard decided to pay a call on the young man.
As he walked to the boarding house, Richard was grateful that his cousin had made a friend of Bingley. The Bingley family fortune came from trade, and those of the upper circles of society frowned upon new money and trade. When William and Charles Bingley first met, it was at university, and three fellow students had decided to show their disapproval of a tradesman’s son in their school. William stood up for the young Bingley, earning him several blows in the ensuing fight, and also earning him the devotion and friendship from a grateful Bingley.
When Richard was near the boarding house, he spied Bingley coming from the entrance. “Bingley, where are you off to on such a nice day?”
“Colonel, what are you doing here? Are you on your way to White’s?” Bingley was surprised to see his friend.
“Actually, I was coming to speak with you, if you have a few moments free.”
Bingley was pleased. “Of course. Where shall we go? To the club or would you prefer the tea shop? There is a tea shop around the corner that serves the most delicious sweets, if you are hungry.”
Richard gave a chuckle. “From the sounds of it, you would prefer the tea shop, and their delicious sweets. I see no reason against such a location. Sweets are rare to acquire when on the battlefield, so I must take advantage when I have an opportunity.”
The duo walked along, discussing trivial matters of the weather and such. Entering the shop, the men placed their order for tea and pastries, then settled down at one of the tables near the front window.
“Are you returning to the continent soon?” Bingley frowned. “I thought you were recovering from injury.”
“My injury requires more time to recover, and I would recover faster if I were away from the city. And I am not up to the journey to my father’s estate, or even to Pemberley. Then I thought of our conversation. I was wondering when you were to take possession of the estate you are leasing?”
“You are in luck. I was originally to take possession later in the summer, but just last night, I received word that the estate is available immediately, if I chose to move in sooner. My plans for today was to determine if I am prepared to make such a move, or if I should delay. There would be a need to hire staff sooner than expected, but if you are up to living sparsely, with little in the way of luxury while I hire staff, then I say we should leave in a few days. I can send word that I will be arriving at Netherfield on Friday, and ask the housekeeper to prepare the best she can. Upon our arrival, I can tend to any other needs we will have. How does that sound to you?”
“Perfect. I shall be ready to join you Friday morning. Would you wish to use your carriage, or shall we take one of my father’s? He has no need of the one in the carriage house here in Town.”
“As my sisters and Hurst have taken my carriage north, it would be appreciated if Lord Matlock would make loan of one of his fine carriages.” Bingley chuckled.
“It may not be the newest, or the best sprung, but I am certain it will be comfortable enough.” Richard teased. “My father keeps his carriages well maintained. My mother would not stand for it to be any other way. She has often stated that she will not tolerate any of our carriages being shoddy or in disrepair. It would not look good for her reputation to be seen in a carriage that might fall apart.”
“Well, I must remember to thank her the next time we are in each other’s company.”
The pair continued discussing the journey, all the while, Bingley had no notion that he would be aiding his dear friend.
~~ ** ~~
Lord Matlock entered the breakfast room to partake in the morning repast. As he began filling his plate, his brother in law entered. “Good morning Gerald. I must say, you have the finest cook I have ever known. How you and Anne managed to keep her in your employ, I will never understand. At last check, I have offered her three times her current pay if she would come to Matlock. And she continues to turn me down.”
“Mrs Fowler is loyal to my family. Money cannot purchase all you may desire, Henry. Besides, I have insinuated that if we were to lose Mrs Fowler, I would wither from the lack of her dishes.”
Lord Matlock chuckled. “And that dear woman would not wish for you to starve. I swear, you have that woman wrapped around your little finger.”
“She loves Georgiana as well. Georgie is forever praising Mrs Fowler’s culinary delights. And William…” Mr Darcy allowed the sentence to drop, his loss of confidence in his son clearly etched on his expression.
“I received word that Richard is sending an investigator for which he has great regard. He served under Richard’s command for several years, before leaving the military to make the voyage to the Orient. My son declared Mr Andrews to be brilliant and thorough in his investigative skills.”
“What is to be investigated, other than the whereabouts of my son? We have eye witness testimony as to what happened. The only thing we can possibly change is if we can convince the magistrate to have William transported, rather than hang. I do not hold hope for such an outcome, but I do not wish to see my son dangle at the end of a rope.” Gerald took a plate and a cup of coffee to the table, though he could not find the will to touch any of the food which had been prepared for them.
“Would you humor me, Gerald? I wish to know for certain before seeing my nephew die for something he might not have done.”
Gerald Darcy’s hand motioned a wave, as if swatting at a pesky fly. “Do as you please, though do not expect anything to be different. My most difficult task will be next week, when Georgiana returns home from school. She will be devastated to learn of her brother’s behavior.”
With a nod, Lord Matlock finished his meal before making his way to the library. He would be please to get to the heart of the matter, to know the truth and clear his nephew’s name.
Later that day, Mr Andrews arrived at Pemberley. He was shown to the library, to speak with the father of his colonel, a man he respected tremendously. “Lord Matlock. It is a pleasure to meet you, though it is far from ideal timing.”
“My son has spoke of you frequently. You impressed him while serving in the regulars. I pray you will find something that will assist in clearing my nephew’s name from the accusations being leveled at him. Did Richard inform you of all that I had told him?”
“He did. Might I inquire to the room where the murder took place? Other than the removal of the deceased, has the room been protected from others moving about, possibly destroying any evidence?”
“I have had the room locked, as soon as the body was removed. Everything else is as it was the day the maid’s body was removed. It has been my hope that you would be available to come and investigate.” Lord Matlock nodded his head.
“And what of the man who claimed to witnessing the murder, is he available for questioning?”
“He left here yesterday. He claimed to be in need of a holiday, to recover from the ordeal. My brother in law has given Wickham funds and sent him on his way. I believe Wickham was heading to London.” Lord Matlock stated, disappointment in the actions of his brother in law’s behavior was clear.
“We should be able to call him back to Pemberley, if there was a need, correct?” Seeing Lord Matlock nod his head in an affirmative, Andrews continued. “Well, I had best take a look at the scene. Will you join me, or is there a staff member who can show me to the room?”
“I will join you. It is my intention to do everything in my power to see that everything that can be done to prove my nephew’s innocence is accomplished. And I do not care of the expense. Fitzwilliam Darcy is a fine, upstanding young man, and I will not allow anyone, not even his father, believe him capable of committing murder.”
The two men walked up the staircases, until they reached the fourth floor. Lord Matlock led the investigator down the hall to the west wing of the manor house. Andrews was pleased to see that a footman was standing guard of the door to the room they were approaching. “You took precautions. I am impressed.”
A nod was seen come from the earl. “And there is another footman stationed at the servant door. They are both footmen from my estate, loyal to me. I did not wish to run any risk of loyalty to Pemberley to cause conflicts.” He removed a key from inside his coat pocket. Motioning the young man to the side, Lord Matlock used the key to unlock the door of the guest room.
The first thing Andrews noticed was the large area of dried blood on the floor. Near the stain was a stone carving of a turtle. Andrews knelt down, inspecting the turtle closely. “Lord Matlock, I believe this situation could be resolved simply. On the smooth surface, there is a mark in blood. When I was in the orient I learned some interesting information. On their pottery and even documents they sign, they use impressions from one of their fingers. According to many of their people, the marks from our fingers are unique, and none of us have the same patterns to the fine ridges found on our fingers. While I was there, I did some research on this information, and I will admit, there is truth behind their theory. Even on our own fingers, each one has a unique pattern.”
Lord Matlock frowned. “I have never heard of such. Are you certain it is true? Could it be different in England than it is in the orient?”
“From what I have seen, it did not matter where the person is from. Each person has unique lines on their fingers. I experimented with members of my own family, and found their lines to be different. And it has been used as a form of education in the orient and India for decades. They use the marks as a form of identity, that is how unique the marks are.”
“But can the marks change over time? Do they become different as one ages, or where they live?”
Andrews shook his head. “From what I have learned, they grow in size, but the lines stay the same. I have seen marks made by people when they were children and then by the same people when they are adults. I found they did not alter on the lines, only the thickness that comes from the skin expanding as one grows.”
“Then we should protect this carving at all costs. Perhaps I should have you take it to my townhouse in Town. My son can lock it in the safe there, for when my nephew is found.”
“As you please, your lordship. If you do not mind, I would like to examine your nephew’s rooms. Perhaps I can find a clue to where he might have gone.”
“Follow me. It is downstairs and the other wing of the house.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~